By Michelle Price
Special to the UCBJ
UPPER CUMBERLAND – Business travelers across the Upper Cumberland region don’t have to wonder as they cross county lines whether a face mask is required. County mayors and executives across the region unanimously stopped short of issuing mask mandates after Gov. Bill Lee passed that authority on to them Friday evening.
County mayors were surprised by Executive Order No. 54 that delegated authority to the county mayors in 89 of the state’s 95 counties to require or recommend the wearing of face coverings.
“We had a conversation with him last Thursday and none of this was even mentioned on Thursday, and Friday we get a heads up call that we are going to get an E.O. (Executive Order) in a little bit,” said Fentress County Mayor Jimmy Johnson. “So, we got it at 6 p.m. Friday night.”
When asked about their decision whether or not to mandate face masks, all mayors in the region were in agreement.
“I have no plans at all to do that,” said Overton County Mayor Ben Danner. “We only have 17 active cases out of 22,000 people.”
“We are not going to mandate it,” said Johnson. “We are at 1.3% of our total population – we have 23-24 cases right now. We are going to put the faith in our people to do what’s best for themselves and our businesses the same way. If you want your customers to wear a mask in or you want to wear them, it’s ok.”
Overall, 2,146 people, or 5.3% of the region’s population, has tested positive for the virus since testing began. Of that number, only 816 – 0.24% – are still active cases.
“At this time, 2.7% of my population has tested positive and less than 0.06% is actively positive, so there is no way I’m going to mandate masks,” said Jackson County Mayor Randy Heady. “I’m going to encourage all my citizens to try to be safe with this because it’s definitely more serious than what some believe. I wander all over the courthouse, but I’m always staying three to four feet from anybody. But if I go to Granville this weekend to Heritage Day, I’m going to have a mask on.”
One common theme among the county mayors was the desire to allow their citizens to decide this important matter for themselves based upon each person’s individual situation.
“We all hope that in the exercise of your personal liberties and your freedom to choose your own actions that you make the individual decision to stay safe and to protect those around you.” Putnam County Mayor Randy Porter said. “We live in a strong community that pulls together in tough times. If we all work together and make good choices, we can prevail over this challenge.”